Why Middle East and North Africa is ranked the world’s ‘least peaceful region’

Why Middle East and North Africa is ranked the world’s ‘least peaceful region’
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A Palestinian protester walks near burning tires during clashes with Israeli forces during a demonstration in the village of Kfar Qaddum in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, against the Jewish state's plans to annex part of the territory, on June 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Why Middle East and North Africa is ranked the world’s ‘least peaceful region’
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Updated 12 August 2020

Why Middle East and North Africa is ranked the world’s ‘least peaceful region’

Why Middle East and North Africa is ranked the world’s ‘least peaceful region’
  • Five of the 10 least peaceful countries in the world located in MENA, according to Global Peace Index 2020
  • Europe ranked most peaceful region, with Iceland taking top spot as most peaceful country in the world

DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been ranked the least peaceful in the world for the sixth consecutive year in a study conducted by an Australian think tank, Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP).

Five of the 10 least peaceful countries in the world — Sudan, Libya, Syrian, Iraq, Yemen — are located in MENA, according to the 2020 edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI).

Released recently by the IEP, the study tracks and ranks the status of peace in 163 independent states and territories across the world, noting where conflict is rising and falling, and which factors are influencing change.

Syria, the report says, remains the least peaceful country in MENA and the second least peaceful country overall, while Iraq is the second least peaceful country in the region and the third least peaceful overall.

Saudi Arabia improved by three ranks, from 128 to 125, and Bahrain recorded the greatest improvement in the region and the third largest improvement of any nation overall, with a 4.8 percent jump in its overall score.

Only three countries from the region — the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar — ranked in the top 50 peaceful countries in the world.

Globally, Europe remains the most peaceful region, with Iceland taking the top spot as the most peaceful country in the world. However, the report also mentioned that almost half of the countries in Europe have deteriorated in peacefulness since 2008, the year the GPI was launched.

The peace index measures more than just the presence or absence of war. It captures the absence of violence or the fear of violence across three domains: Safety and Security; Ongoing Conflict; and Militarization.

While both the Militarization and Ongoing Conflict markers improved on average in MENA, the report noted a deterioration in Safety and Security, due to a stronger likelihood of violent demonstrations and increase in political instability.

For instance, violent demonstrations continue to be a concern in Iraq, which has the maximum possible score on this indicator.

“Since protests erupted across the country in October 2019, Iraq has had more than 700 fatalities and thousands of severe injuries as a result of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces,” the report noted.

Iran had the largest fall in peacefulness in the region, its score deteriorating across all three GPI domains, with the largest occurring in Safety and Security.

While the deterioration in global peacefulness has not been limited to any one region, indicator or country, conflict in the Middle East has been the key driver of diminishing peace in the world, according to the report.

“Of the 23 indicators in the MENA region, 19 are under the average,” said Serge Stroobants, director of operations for Europe and MENA at the IEP. “Four of the main conflicts of the past years are located in the region — Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

According to Dr. Theodore Karasik, from Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., the numbers are not surprising given the perceptions and realities in the region.

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2.5% decline in average global peacefulness since 2008

“The issue here, within the GPI scope, is the safety and security of people in the region,” he told Arab News.

“Given the tensions between countries on multiple planes — political, religious, social — when combined with various forms of conflict from kinetic to cyber, it creates an impact on the peoples in question.” 

However, the MENA region, despite ongoing armed conflict and instability, did record improvements in some areas, including the number of deaths from internal conflict, the intensity of internal conflicts, and both the import and export of weapons.

Saudi Arabia has jumped five spots in the index since 2008, with Internal Safety and Security as the only domain of indicators to decrease in the past year.

“This is mostly linked to the number of refugees, of internally displaced people (IDPs) on the territory, and some levels of political terror,” said Stroobants.

“The only other indicator that decreased last year was the number of External and Internal Conflicts Fought, so we see the emergence of internal conflict and this is linked with some kind of movement on the political terror scale that created IDPs on Saudi Arabian soil.”

Syria, despite its low ranking in the GPI, recorded a slight improvement in peacefulness, with the civil war and turmoil continuing to lessen in intensity.

“Following the ceasefire deal of March 2020, around 35,000 displaced civilians have returned to their homes in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib,” the report says.

“However, millions of Syrians are still either displaced internally or are refugees.”

The report attributed the overall decline in global peace — the average level of global peacefulness that has deteriorated by 2.5 per cent since 2008 — to a range of factors, including increased terrorist activity, intensification of conflicts in the Middle East, rising regional tensions in Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia, increasing numbers of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US.

This year’s edition of the GPI finds that the world has become less peaceful for the ninth time in the last 12 years.

The crisis provoked by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is also playing a significant role in causing global instability according to the report, which notes its potential to undo years of socio-economic development, exacerbate humanitarian crises and aggravate unrest and conflict. Its impact is already being seen in worsening US-China relations and civil unrest across the world, says the report.

In Karasik’s view, the pandemic is the most critical driver of instability owing to its effect on interaction, commerce and, most importantly, politics.

“The pandemic, when combined with other regional grievances, becomes a struggle between methods and approaches,” he told Arab News.

“In the Middle East, the modelling is roughly the same in terms of lockdown, testing and treatment. The GPI findings may show quite a different picture next year as the region continues to contend with the virus and its lasting impact.”

This complex, multi-dimensional threat to stability requires countries to seek innovative solutions for long-term peace, the report said.

“At the institute, we developed a concept called the Positive Peace Index (PPI), which looks at the attitudes, institutions and processes that a country needs to put in place in order to create, maintain and sustain peace,” said Stroobants.

He listed the eight principles of the PPI: a well-functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of rights of others, good relations with neighbors, high levels of human capital, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information and low levels of corruption.




In this file photo taken on June 22, 2018, members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) carry rifles as they stand guard on a road in the Qandil Mountains, the PKK headquarters in northern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)

When all eight principles are followed by a country, said Stroobants, it leads to a transformation. The GPI report emphasizes that the IEP has empirically derived the PPI through the analysis of almost 25,000 economic and social progress indicators to determine which ones have statistically significant relationships with peace as measured by the GPI.

“We also see the economic, social, governance and ecological benefits that come along and, by doing so, we create more resilient societies, which will be able to better cope with civil unrest, natural disasters, the effects of climate change, and COVID-19,” said Stroobants.

“Therefore, our advice is: Invest in positive peace. It’s an innovative form of development.”

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@CalineMalek


Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly

Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly
Updated 21 min 23 sec ago

Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly

Split in Israeli-Arab parliamentary bloc could prove costly
  • It is predicted the Joint List will lose up to six of its MPs after the United Arab List left the group over political and social disagreements
  • It comes almost a year after the alliance won 15 seats in the Knesset, which was a record high for an Arab political bloc

ATLANTA: With only two weeks to go until parliamentary elections in Israel, a recent split within the ranks of the Joint List, the bloc that represents most of the country’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, threatens to diminish its political power.

The United Arab List (UAL), also known as the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, withdrew from the four-party alliance in February over disagreements about political and social issues. The remaining members are the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, the Arab Movement for Renewal, and the National Democratic Alliance (Balad).

In the previous election, in March last year, the Joint List won 15 seats in the Knesset, a record high for an Arab political bloc. Analysts predict that as a result of the split it will will lose five or six of those seats in the next parliament.

UAL leaders said the conflict with the Joint List is a result of its decision to support Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White coalition, in his efforts to form a government with Arab political support after last year’s elections.

Instead of forming his own government with the support of the Joint List as agreed, Gantz instead decided to form a joint government with right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinian community viewed this as both a rebuke and a betrayal of the Arab parties that had supported his bid to become prime minister.

However Jamal Zahalka, a former member of parliament and former leader of Balad, said the cause of the rift was the refusal of UAL leader Mansour Abbas to abide by a collective Joint List decision to cast a vote to dissolve the Knesset, which paved the way for this month’s election.

“Abbas floated the possibility that he might swing his vote in either direction of the Israeli political parties in exchange for economic benefits for the Palestinian communities,” Zahalka told Arab News.

“Palestinian political parties, given their marginalized status, should not engage in such political bargains that could weaken them in the long run.”

Ibrahim Hijazi, the UAL’s secretary-general, told the Arab News that the party was effectively “pushed out” of the Joint List because of its desire to be more politically independent.

He said there is no significant difference between the Israeli political right or left when it comes to issues such as the racist treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel, ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and the building of illegal Israeli settlements.

“All shades of the Israeli government are inherently anti-Arab racists,” he said. Therefore Palestinian Arabs should not align themselves with the Israeli left as the Joint List has, he added, which was a major point of contention with the bloc.

The Joint List’s record of voting for laws that support the LGBTQ community in Israel was another cause of disagreements, Hijazi said, because such laws are not in line with the social values of Arab communities in Israel.

He added that his party has forged alliances with a number of community leaders across the country and he expects it to win between four and six seats in this month’s elections.

Palestinian historian Mahmoud Yazbak, a professor of Palestinian History at the University of Haifa, agreed with Hijazi that since 1948 successive Israeli governments have implemented racist policies designed to politically disenfranchise and marginalize Palestinians.

“As a result, the Arab Palestinian parties inside Israel have been operating on the periphery of the Israeli political system without real power,” he said. The historic electoral success of the Joint List in March last year gave it the ability to tip the balance of power for the party seeking to form the government, he added.

To capitalize on this new-found political clout, “the Joint List’s main goal was to topple Netanyahu from power because he is the most anti-Arab racist of Israeli prime ministers,” said Yazbak.

Israeli governments have deliberately neglected the Palestinian community socially, politically and economically, he added. The proliferation of organized crime and the high rate of murders in Palestinian communities is a deliberate result of Israeli policies that aim to dismantle the political and social cohesiveness of Palestinians in Israel.

“Successive Israeli governments for the past 20 years have tacitly encouraged gang members, drug dealers and Mafia-style criminal activities in Palestinian areas,” he said.


‘Visual memory’: Activists in race to save digital trace of Syria war

‘Visual memory’: Activists in race to save digital trace of Syria war
A Kurdish woman walks with her child past the ruins of the town of Kobani. (AFP)
Updated 09 March 2021

‘Visual memory’: Activists in race to save digital trace of Syria war

‘Visual memory’: Activists in race to save digital trace of Syria war
  • The videos showing regime bombardments, executions by extremists and chemical attacks had served as a vital window into a conflict which has remained largely off limits to journalists and investigators and was captured mostly by the people living it

BEIRUT: From videos of deadly airstrikes to extremists' takeovers, Al-Mutez Billah’s YouTube page served as a digital archive of the Syrian war until automated takedown software in 2017 erased it permanently.
The page exhibiting footage that violated YouTube’s community standards could not be restored because Al-Mutez Billah, a citizen-journalist, had been executed by Daesh three years earlier over his documentation efforts.
“It’s not just videos that have been deleted, it’s an entire archive of our life,” said Sarmad Jilane, a Syrian activist and close friend of Al-Mutez Billah, who was killed at the age of 21.
“Effectively, it feels like a part of our visual memory has been erased.”
The Google-owned YouTube platform has deleted hundreds of thousands of videos uploaded by Syrian activists since it introduced automated software in 2017 to detect and delete objectionable content, including violent or graphic videos.
It is not the only social media giant relying on artificial intelligence takedowns, but the platform is home to the majority of Syria war footage, making it an even bigger blow.
The videos showing regime bombardments, executions by extremists and chemical attacks had served as a vital window into a conflict which has remained largely off limits to journalists and investigators and was captured mostly by the people living it.
With the war entering its 11th year, there is growing concern that digital evidence of history’s most documented conflict is being syphoned away by the Internet’s indiscriminate trash can.
“The videos are part of an entire population’s memory,” Jilane said.
“Every clip helps us remember things like what shells were fired that day, the date of the event, or even how we were feeling at the time,” the activist told AFP over the phone from Germany.
Jilane is one of the founders of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a renowned activist-run page that documented abuses by extremists from Daesh.
Four years ago, YouTube deleted the page’s account but it has since been restored with the help of the Syrian Archive — a group working to preserve the conflict’s digital footprint.
The Syrian Archive has helped restore more than 650,000 YouTube videos removed since 2017, but that is only a fraction of deleted content.
“There is a real feel among people who do open-source investigation that Syrian history is being erased by machine-learning technology,” said Dia Kayyali of the parent company Mnemonic.
“It is a steady and ongoing bleeding-out of this body of evidence.”
To get a sense of how much content is being removed, the Syrian Archive compares videos available online against those collected on its servers.
Almost a quarter of its collection is no longer available on YouTube, Kayyali said.
The situation is set to worsen as global powers ramp up pressure on social media giants to curb terror content online.
In December, EU lawmakers reached a provisional agreement on tougher regulations, including an obligation that platforms take down offending material within an hour.
If enforced, this would make preservation all the more difficult.
“As soon as we find things, we archive them,” Kayyali said.
“But we can’t keep up with the technology, it’s specifically designed to be much faster than human beings,” she added.
“Right now, it’s really a race against time.”
YouTube usually relies on a mix of automated software and human reviewers to flag and delete problematic videos.
But the coronavirus pandemic has forced it to lean more on artificial intelligence as it reduces “in-office staffing,” according to its latest transparency report.
This “means we are removing more content that may not be violative of our policies,” it said.
But “when it’s brought to our attention that a video or channel has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it,” said a YouTube spokesperson.
Despite the erasures, countless hours of Syria content survive.
“We have more footage of the Syrian war than the length of the conflict itself,” said Nick Waters of the open-source investigation website Bellingcat.
Bellingcat has gained prominence as a pillar of open-source intelligence since it started using videos and images to probe the use of weapons in Syria’s war, which has claimed more than 380,000 lives.
Rights groups have also used open-source information to investigate chemical weapon use in Syria.
“User-generated content is very good at establishing certain things: what happened, where and when,” Waters said.
“It’s less good in terms of the why and sometimes the whom.”
Experts believe social media evidence could potentially play a future role in Syria prosecutions.
Its use in court is still being developed, Waters said, but its added value should not be overlooked.
“Each one of these videos or images potentially shows a piece of history,” said the open-source analyst.
“By deleting these videos, especially from accounts of people who may have been killed ... these social media giants are effectively destroying evidence.”


Egypt condemns Houthis’ targeting of civilian areas and Saudi institutions

Egypt condemns Houthis’ targeting of civilian areas and Saudi institutions
A view shows branded oil tanks at Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia October 12, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 09 March 2021

Egypt condemns Houthis’ targeting of civilian areas and Saudi institutions

Egypt condemns Houthis’ targeting of civilian areas and Saudi institutions
  • In the past week, Saudi air defenses have intercepted 31 armed drone and missile attacks, mostly targeting cities in the Kingdom’s south, amid an escalation in Houthi strikes

CAIRO: Egypt has expressed its condemnation of the Houthi militia’s terrorist operations against Saudi Arabia through the targeting of civilian areas and vital institutions, including the sites of energy facilities that affect the whole region.

The latest of the terrorism acts targeted the port of Ras Tanura and the facilities of Saudi Aramco in attacks by a drone and a ballistic missile, which were intercepted and successfully countered.
A statement by Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated its strong rejection of such attacks, which are inconsistent with international and humanitarian law and hinder efforts to bring peace to Yemen, and undermine the region’s security and stability.

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Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated its strong rejection of Houthi attacks, which are inconsistent with international and humanitarian law and hinder efforts to bring peace to Yemen, and undermine the region’s security and stability.

Egypt said that its government and people stand with the Saudi government and people, and expressed its solidarity with the measures taken by Saudi Arabia to confront the attacks and preserve its security and stability.
In the past week, Saudi air defenses have intercepted 31 armed drone and missile attacks, mostly targeting cities in the Kingdom’s south, amid an escalation in Houthi strikes.
After the latest Houthi attacks, the coalition released footage showing an airstrike on a mobile SAM-6 surface-to-air missile system.
Other footage showed Houthi Qasef-2K drones and Samad attack drones aimed at civilian sites in the Kingdom being intercepted and destroyed.


Lebanese president calls on army to prevent protesters blocking roads

A man stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators next to the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in the Martyrs' Square in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut on March 8, 2021. (AFP)
A man stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators next to the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in the Martyrs' Square in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut on March 8, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 09 March 2021

Lebanese president calls on army to prevent protesters blocking roads

A man stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators next to the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in the Martyrs' Square in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut on March 8, 2021. (AFP)
  • Army chief says people have right to protest peacefully over economic and political crisis and his forces will not suppress just demands

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Monday told security forces to prevent roads being blocked by protesters. It came as demonstrators declared a “day of rage” amid growing anger about more than a year of economic crisis and months of political paralysis, and blocked main routes across the country for a seventh day straight.

Gen. Joseph Aoun, commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, held a meeting on Monday with military commanders during which he stressed the right of people to engage in peaceful protest but not to damage public property. He also said that violations of the rights of the army would not be tolerated, and called on politicians to resolve the crisis.

In his first public critical comments, he said that “soldiers are hungry like the people, so what are the officials waiting for?” He added that “they launch political campaigns against us to distort our image” but said they will not succeed in doing so.

“It is forbidden to interfere with our affairs or with our promotions or formations. The army is compact and its dissolution means the end of the (Lebanese) entity. The experience of 1975 (the Lebanese Civil War) will not be repeated,” he said.

Gen. Aoun denied that there had been desertions from the military as a result of the economic crisis but added: “Do you want a potent army or not? The army budget is reduced every year, which negatively affects the morale of the military.”

The day of rage began to spread early on Monday to all parts of Lebanon as protesters once again blocked key roads in an attempt to prevent people from going to work.

The demonstrators spoke of their concerns about “the worries of daily life, the rise in the exchange rate of the dollar, and the need for early parliamentary elections.”

According to a report by the Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut, obtained by Arab News: “The accelerating collapse of the Lebanese pound last week and the increase of the value of the dollar on the black market to more than (10,000 Lebanese pounds) was a shock to citizens, who lost more than 85 percent of their salaries.

“If the repercussions of the pound’s plunge in value are evident in the deterioration of Lebanese and other residents’ buying power, and in feverish, sometimes violent competition over subsidized goods in some shops, the worst is still to come.”

The report continued: “The support obtained by the Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) covers between 85 percent and 90 percent of the value of fuel and medicine purchases so far.”

The blocking of roads by protesters, which resulted in clashes with the security services attempting to reopen them, caused alarm among politicians.

During a security, financial and economic meeting on Monday morning at the presidential palace in Baabda, there were calls “not to allow roadblocks, taking into account the safety of citizens, demonstrators and public and private property.”

However, Gen. Aoun made it clear that the military would not prevent peaceful demonstrations or attack protesters to suppress just demands for a resolution of the crisis.

In his speech to officers, he said: “The solution to the crisis is political, and the political forces must assume their responsibilities and work toward finding a solution. They cannot blame the demonstrators nor the Lebanese army.”

A protesters in the Tyre area poured gasoline over himself and tried to set himself on fire on Monday but was prevented from doing so by Lebanese Civil Defense.

In Tripoli, there was a confrontation between the army and protesters calling for “the resignation and trial of all officials.”

During the meeting at the presidential palace, concerns were raised about who was responsible for the latest increase to the dollar exchange rate at the weekend, when businesses were closed. President Aoun asked the security services to investigate plots to harm the country.

Several measures to address the currency crisis were agreed during a meeting with security and government officials, according to an official statement, including a crackdown on anyone found to be violating monetary and credit laws, including foreign exchange bureaus.


Tunisia set to receive first coronavirus jabs

Tunisia set to receive first coronavirus jabs
Updated 08 March 2021

Tunisia set to receive first coronavirus jabs

Tunisia set to receive first coronavirus jabs
  • First initial 30,000 doses arrive Tuesday from Russia followed by 500,000 doses in coming weeks

TUNIS: Mass inoculation in Tunisia starts on Tuesday when the first coronavirus vaccines arrive in the North African nation using Russia's Sputnik V jabs.
Initially 30,000 doses are due to arrive Tuesday from Russia, followed by 500,000 doses "in coming weeks" said a presidency statement citing "constant diplomatic efforts" to procure them.
Being amongst the last North African nations to start vaccinations, Tunisia has some 11.7 million inhabitants and has recorded 237,704 Covid-19 cases including 8,201 deaths since the pandemic began.
The government had previously announced it was expecting an initial 94,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford jabs from mid-February, but delivery under the UN-led Covax scheme was delayed. Beijing last month also pledged to gift 100,000 doses.
A vaccination campaign is expected to begin in coming days.
Lockdown measures remain in place, although rules have been eased slightly, with an overnight curfew now starting at 10:00 pm instead of 8:00 pm.
For travelers, mandatory quarantine at a hotel has been replaced by self-isolation at home for 48 hours.